Thursday, 20 August 2015

Patriots - Review (Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015)

Patriots is a refreshing piece of up-to –the minute writing which takes well-known stories from recent headlines and  gives them a sense of humanity in a series of short ‘techno-fables’.

The play opens with a carefully edited montage of different clips from news programmes over the last year or so, broadcast on four retro television sets positioned on stage. The TVs give a wonderfully retro edge to the modern writing and give a sense of the timelessness of the stories unfolding onstage.

It is clear that the play is broken down into distinct sections, but at times this made the overall effect feel a little disjointed. There were clearly connections to be made between the different storylines, otherwise the title ‘Patriots’ would not have been applicable to all of them, and yet these connections were largely ignored. It worked very well to have a story about real human connection as a linking piece in between scenes of heartlessness and professional desperation, but more could have been done to draw parallels between each scene. 
But that is my only criticism. The individual performances were incredibly strong from all four cast members, but Oliver Lennard particularly stood out in terms of delivering levels of raw emotion in an otherwise cold theatrical context.

The stand-out scene has to be an interaction between a member of the SNP and an automated phone line. This was definitely my ‘scene of the fringe’ this year, and I struggle to think of a wittier scenario that I have seen before in any medium of political satire. The phone engages the character of Ian, played by Stephen Quinn, in a game of Deal Or No Deal, where the boxes contain pros and cons of Scottish independence and the banker offers independence deals based on the arguments raised in each round. It is a beautifully staged, wonderfully acted and completely refreshing up-to-the-moment piece of theatre which is incredibly relevant to many an audience at this year’s fringe.

So all-in-all, this is an excellent play which is brought to life in style by a fantastic cast. You should definitely go and see this play before the end of their run, they deserve to have a full house every night. 5 stars.

Patriots is on a Paradise in the Vault at 20:35. Their last performance is on 22nd August so make sure to catch them before then. 

The Year of the Hare - Review (Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015)

The Year of the Hare is an eccentric and fiendishly mad piece of theatre. It is brought to you by Ryhmateatteri theatre company and a cast of four talented and energetic actors who clearly enjoy every minute of their time spent performing this tale.

The play itself has the feel of a 21st century fable, warning your average corporate businessperson of the dangers of losing your imagination and your connection with nature.

The play starts extremely strongly, with clever staging and use of props telling the story of a man fed up with his job and his marriage, who ends up punching a trainer at a conference and crashing his car off the road. He subsequently injures a hare which is befriends and takes with him to travel through Finland. It is an amusing concept which works within the context of the play, as daft as it sounds.

I found myself thoroughly enjoying the first half an hour or so. I was ready to give it a rave review and to tell everyone I know about its mad but fun ideas, use of the projector and multimedia elements, dozens of wig changes and the interesting and heartwarming overarching themes and messages. However, something changed after the first half of the show, after a karaoke scene which lasted for four songs. The idea was great but it lasted far too long, and I could feel the audience around me slipping into boredom and slowly distancing themselves from the action on stage. The story took a strange turn, with Vatanen running off to the wilderness and a scene involving a thieving raven. This joke was funny to begin with, but the scene was far too long and the joke became tired quite quickly.

The ending clawed it back again, going out on an excellent and clever video montage before the metaphorical curtain came down. If the script had been cut to a make a play of between 45 minutes and an hour, I would have had barely a bad word to say about this show. But sadly, the concept was strung out for far too long and despite excellent individual performances from the whole cast, the performers couldn’t make up for some fundamental scripting issues. 

The Year of the Hare is on at the Pleasance Dome at 18:45. 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Mad Women In My Attic! - Review

This is going to be a very tricky review to write, not because I didn’t enjoy the show, but because I went in not knowing what to expect, and came out feeling that wonderful sense of artistic confusion which everyone who visits the fringe should experience at some point. As essential as this feeling is, it is not an easy one to explain or describe, but I shall do my very best.

The concept is fairly simple: a cabaret billed as ‘a trawl through the troubled minds of musical theatre’s most famous female characters’. Salvi plays the part of a woman in some sort of an asylum, performing a wonderful collection of show tunes sung by the most unstable of musical theatre’s female characters. Complete with witty props, speedy on-stage costume changes and audience participation, it is an interactive and exciting show which deserves to do well at the fringe.
The interactive audience participation elements of the performance were highly entertaining for both those chosen to participate and those watching from the relative safety of one of the pews. Salvi had to work hard to warm the audience to the mad sense of chaos and to bring us to relish the unexpected, but she stuck at it and by the end of the show everyone was eating out of her palm.

I think the venue very much changes the tone of the performance. It shouldn’t make a difference, but some part of my brain was distracted by the imposing church architecture reminiscent of strict rules and regulations, and I found it difficult to let go of any inhibitions holding me back. To make the most of this show you will have to thoroughly immerse yourself in the mad world which Salvi has constructed, and pretend that you are in a cosy underground bar at 10 o’clock at night, with a bottle of wine on the table.

Once you have let your hair down, you will be thoroughly rewarded with a highly energetic and engaging performance from a truly exceptional singer. This is not a show for the shy and retiring, but if you are looking for belting tunes and an uplifting message to brighten up your afternoon, this is a show for you.

Aug 7-8,10,12,14-15,17,19,21-22,24,26,28-29,31 at 18:00
Aug 11,18,25 at 18:30; Aug 16,23 at 20:30 
St John's Church, Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4BJ (Church at St John's)
Ticket prices £10.00 (£8.00) 

Friday, 31 July 2015

All Things Cultured Hits The Fringe!

It’s been a while since I have written any reviews, but I have been exceptionally busy getting things ready to take Things Can Only Get Bitter to this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe (I know it’s a rubbish excuse, but it’s the only one you’re getting). On that note, you should definitely go and see Things Can Only Get Bitter, or check out the blog at

But since I will be at the fringe anyway, I thought that I would hop back aboard the blog train, and review the shows which I go and see. With just a few days to go until the beginning of the festival, I cannot wait to get in the car and make the 8 hour drive north to join in the madness!

If you have a show which you would like me to review, please send your press release to I can’t promise that I will get to see everything, but I will do my very best! Reviews will be posted on here as soon as possible after I have seen the show, and I will notify you by email to let you know that the review has gone live.

Thanks for reading and happy fringe!!! 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

A review of Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

It’s amazing to think that a girl’s boarding school in the 1930s could sound quite so much like the prep school I attended at the very beginning of the Twentieth Century, but it seems like some of the these values will always be engrained into parts of the British education system. I did find it eerily coincidental that the book includes a character called Felicity and that I had a games teacher called Mrs Hopkins when I was at school, too. Fluke details aside, I think that everyone, children and adults alike, will find something they can relate to in this very easy going novel. We might not all be the daughters of Lords or find ourselves in a different country miles away from our families, but we do all know what it feels like to be an outsider trying to fit in.

The story is told from the point of view of Hazel Wong, a foreign student who gradually becomes part of the institution herself. We’ll forgive the author for choosing a name which sounds an awful lot like Hazel’s country of origin, Hong Kong. There is a lot more to her characterisation than being purely an Asian stereotype.

There is a strong anti-bulling message which is refreshing to see in books for children and comforting to read to as an adult. The book promotes all sorts of lessons to its readers: women can be strong; children can know as much as adults do; it’s not ok to persecute others for being different; you should never be afraid to stand up to your friends and things may not always be as they seem. That’s quite a lot of moral messaging to cram into a relatively short murder mystery!

Murder aside, this representation of school in England is not one which every reader will immediately recognise. The boarding school rhetoric and the sheltered bubble in which the girls live is not an accurate portrayal of the average education in Britain. But not all fiction needs to be entirely representative. There is a sense of nostalgia in the text, and the boarding school setting makes it much more likely that Wells and Wong’s Detective Society could actually prosper.

I grew up reading Enid Blyton and JK Rowling and my fictional escapism was often located in boarding schools in the country. The experiences of these children were always wildly different from my own but that’s why I enjoyed reading the books. I want to avoid saying that Murder Most Unladylike is Malory Towers meets Sherlock Holmes, it is much more than that, but I can’t get the image of Daisy and Hazel running around in deerstalkers and hiding drawing pins on teachers’ chairs out of my head.

It’s not a gritty, hard-hitting novel which deals with the injustice of the education system in Britain, but it is jolly good fun and a very entertaining read. I will certainly be buying the next books in the series.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Magic of Stories

W B Gooderham has recently published a book called ‘Dedicated To’. This book is a collection of the annotations and inscriptions found lurking beneath the covers of second hand books. Sadly, since I am currently living in Mexico and has yet to reach us out here, I have no way of getting hold of a copy any time soon, but I cannot wait to look inside.

I have been a fan of stories ever since I can remember. We still have bookshelves lined with the stories that I was told and that I read myself when I was too young to have many of my own. As I grew up, I fell in love with telling stories. I joined a drama club and I took part in the physical retelling and communication of stories live in front of audiences. I had fierce nightmares because my brain wouldn’t dare stop telling stories even when I was asleep.

I grew up more, and began to study literature. To understand the art of the story, the science of the story. I also study language and the art of communicating those stories. When I moved to Mexico, my family came to visit and my Dad said to me that he wasn’t surprised that my Spanish had improved dramatically in a short space of time because he knew that I wouldn’t be able to survive if I couldn’t communicate my stories to others.

And for all of these reasons I love the second hand bookshop. For me it is the perfect image of the story. Not the book. The story. Because second hand books tell more than just the story written in their pages. They hold in their chapters the imprint of somebody’s life. The person who owned that book read that story, and in some way, however large or small, it will have affected them. There must be a story behind how they got the book, whether they read and why they let it go. As with any story the possibilities are endless, and we will never know for sure exactly how these stories unfolded. But for me it doesn’t matter. The story lives on in the book, which may pass from reader to reader, generation to generation in a strange immortalising of not just a chapter in a novel, but in a chapter of someone’s life.

For me WB Gooderham’s recent publication offers an insight into this secretive, mysterious world of the dual-story potential of second hand books. And I cannot wait to begin my story by buying it. 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Boris Godunov, 9th January, Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Boris Godunov forms the second part of this season’s A World Elsewhere trilogy at the RSC and marks Michael Boyd’s last production as Artistic Director. The first ever production of Pushkin’s little-known play in English, is by no means a weak exit for Boyd.

Lloyd Hutchinson as Boris Godunov – photograph by Ellie Kurttz

He was of course the man who brought us the memorable histories which began the Complete Works Festival, and echoes of this epic cycle are visible throughout the performance. The play itself works in much the same way as the histories, in that it tells the story of an earlier period of Russian history. The script has blood, treachery, death, deceit and treachery, pretty much everything you would expect in a history play. In a question and answer session with a selection of actors and the Assistant Director of the show, Lloyd Hutchinson described the play as ‘a love letter to Shakespeare’ and there are notable references to many of his works, including Julius Caesar, Henry V, Richard III and Coriolanus.

But Boris Godunov offers something unique from these plays: it has comedy. Whilst some of Shakespeare’s denser works offer a few moments of humour in the course of the production, Adrian Mitchell’s adaptation features comedy from beginning to end. Somehow it cleverly combines physical and verbal comedy on stage with tragedy, so that one minute you are laughing, which Boris sat in the stalls with his arm round the shoulder of an audience member and the next minute you are mourning the death of his men in combat. Boyd capitalises on the comedy in the script and creates physical comedy on stage too. My particular favourite moment was the creation of the fountains where Grigory arranges to meet Maryna. The fountains consisted of four women standing with bowls on their heads, and the moving water was made by men pouring it out of jugs into the bowls. This ingenious staging created the sound and effect of fountains on stage but maintaining a comedic undercurrent to the business transactions playing out in the scene.

The actors were, as always, fantastic. But particular mention must go to Lloyd Hutchinson in the title role as Boris, who shone out as an incredible performer, who kept the audience onside at every moment. Another special mention goes to Lucy Briggs-Owen as Maryna, whose interpretation of a neurotic and scheming princess rivalled any portrayal of the spoilt daughter of a king.

Boyd managed to stage a production which was incredibly entertaining, informative and clever in so many ways. But it also serves as a comment on modern day Russia. Towards the end of the play, the actors change from old fashioned military uniforms into smart modern suits, with guns instead of knives, and smart phones and earpieces to complete the look. Boyd has made an entertaining production with an extremely relevant political overtone. Shakespeare would be proud.

Boris Godunov is followed by A Life of Galileo which I imagine will be just as impressive as this production. Be sure not to miss out.